Friday, April 5, 2013
Lemon Cheese Tart
Spring has definitely sprung. There are tulips and asparagus everywhere! The evening light is back and the street scenes are transformed. There are the occasional showers that we know will bring us May flowers. Strawberries have arrived but I'm holding off just a bit to see if they get slightly smaller and sweeter.
And then of course there is lemon. This tart is the ultimate in simplicity, the kind of dessert I always associate with spring. It's a very light bite with lemon overtones and will pair nicely with all the fresh fruit of the season (think strawberry rhubarb compote). Or it can be served plain with a nice glass of Beaumes de Venise, Semillon or Monbazillac. It's basic but satisfying when you want just a hint of dessert.
The lemon filling is an equal blend of cream cheese and ricotta and forms a thin layer inside a flaky crust, so you're almost getting a fairly equal bite of both. It's subtle and not too sweet, perfect if you're looking for something to crown a light summer meal in the twilight of evening.
- The pastry dough comes together almost instantly. Check it as you go to be sure you're not overmixing. It's done when the dough looks a little bit like small curd cottage cheese. When you gather it together to wrap, it smoothes out.
- The pastry dough can be made 1 - 2 days ahead and chilled. Any longer than that and it starts to discolor and turn grey.
- Room temperature cream cheese makes it easier to blend with the other ingredients.
- Whisk the filling just long enough to completely combine without loosening the cheeses too much.
- Be gentle when you're folding over the pastry dough onto the tart to form the border so it doesn't sink into the filling. It's easiest if you fold over all 4 sides first and then fold the tucked corners over the top.
- I bake this for 25 minutes at 375 degrees to set the cheese filling and then raise the temperature to 400 degrees for 10 minutes to brown the crust. But each oven is its own beast, so check it at 25 minutes to see if your crust is browning properly. If so, just leave the oven at 375.
- If you don't have a 9" square tart pan with a removable bottom, use a 9" square metal baking pan and line it with a parchment overhang so you can easily lift it out.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator. I was kind of surprised to find that it's also good cold!
Lemon Cheese Tart
Serves 6 - 8
1 C flour
2 t sugar
1/8 t salt
3 oz cold butter
1/4 C cold water
Lemon Cheese Filling
5 oz cream cheese @ room temperature
5 oz ricotta
1/4 C + 2 T sugar
1 1/2 t lemon juice
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 T butter, melted
sugar for sprinkling
To prepare the pastry dough, place the flour, sugar and salt into the bowl of a food processor and blend. Cut the cold butter into 1/2" pieces and add to the flour mixture. Pulse until the butter is the size of small peas, about 5 seconds. Add the cold water and pulse until the dough starts to clump, about 10 seconds. The dough will look a bit like small curd cottage cheese. Gather the dough and place on a sheet of plastic wrap. Form a disc and wrap tightly. Chill thoroughly.
For the filling, whisk together the cream cheese, ricotta, sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest. Add a pinch of salt, to taste. Whisk in the egg. Chill the filling while you roll out the pastry dough.
Unwrap the dough and let it rest on a lightly floured piece of parchment or work surface for just a few minutes. It needs to stay cool but warm up just enough to handle without a lot of resistance and cracking.
Roll the dough out to about an 11" square and 1/8" thickness, gently lifting and moving the dough after each roll and keeping it lightly floured as needed. When you have the desired size, trim the edges and brush off any excess flour. Fold it in half and then again in half. Center the folded corner of the dough in a 9" square tart pan or baking pan. Unfold it and work it into the corners, leaving an overhang on all four sides. Pour the filling into the tart and spread it evenly. Gently fold the pastry overhang onto the surface of the tart.
Chill the tart while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Brush the border of the dough with melted butter and dust with a light sprinkle of sugar. Bake for 25 minutes and then increase oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake an additional 10 minutes until the dough is crisp and browned. Place on a wire rack to cool completely.